One of the factors in my switch to Apple products was the level of customer service afforded, both online and via my local Apple retail store. I’ve had only one hardware related issue to date with the myriad devices (and there have been quite a few) I’ve purchased, but a short visit to my local retail outlet resulted in my faulty device being swapped out by the manager. No questions, no hassle, just friendly and quick help- something few retailers have been able to provide at all, much less to the level I was afforded.
To continue this positive relationship with their customers MacRumors reported recently that Apple’s online store will be expanding their support via chat (traditional text chat, screen sharing sessions, and online sessions to help set up new devices) to include the UK, Germany, Spain, and Brazil. US customers have already been able to access these advanced online support features, helping those that lived in a market area without an Apple retail store.
Unfortunately MacRumors also brought us news of changes at Apple retail stores that could have a negative impact on customer relations. The report reflected news of reductions of part time staff and cutbacks in staff hours on the heels of an admission by Apple that they had “messed up” in adjusting their staffing formulas for retail outlets that would have resulted in significant cuts to staff.
The changes are thought to be the result of the departure of former retail head John Browett who had campaigned for the focus of the stores to be customer satisfaction, while new CEO Tim Cook is thought to favor a more financially-focused approach for the retail operations. While the retail outlets should undoubtedly produce a profit, I’ve always felt that an organization that specializes in premium products such as Apple should provide an overall atmosphere to reflect that commitment. Much as BMW uses their comprehensive maintenance program to reinforce their brand image as a quality product, Apple should (even at the risk of losing out on some profit) focus on providing the best possible customer experience. The shift to using profit as the primary statistic to evaluate store performance is in my opinion a mistake, but I’ll defer to Mr. Cook’s business acumen. Time will tell if the change in strategy will be successful.
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Numerous reports are surfacing today on the unwritten policy of the two larger cellular providers AT&T and Verizon to have associates steer in-store customers away from iPhones and to Android or Windows handsets. Activations of new phones on AT&T service seem to reflect this policy as iPhone sales have fallen from approximately 80% of all smartphones to between 50-60%.
There are numerous reasons for carriers to convince customers to purchase something other than an iPhone. The iPhone has closed architecture, and can’t be preloaded with proprietary software or front ends like some Android handsets. The margin on the iPhone is likely less than other handsets thanks to both Apple’s negotiating might and competitor’s willingness to take less to gain a foothold in the market. iPhones don’t support LTE yet, so those customers aren’t going to purchase the more expensive LTE data plans being offered (and needing more of it thanks to LTE’s blazing speed compared to 3G). iPhone users have also been shown to actually use their devices more than Android owners, spending far more time browsing and interacting with their network connection thus costing carriers more to provide service.
I’ve witnessed this gentle bullying secondhand. I’ve been called to help a friend who lost their iPhone and wanted a replacement, only to be strongarmed by an AT&T associate that insisted a Samsung handset was better. For some it may very well be, but for my friend it was a disaster- she lacks any technological aptitude and just couldn’t navigate Android’s inner workings like she could with the familiar iPhone. I instructed her to return the handset for something she was comfortable with, but the story didn’t have a completely happy ending- AT&T charged her a $30 restocking fee, and refused to issue refunds for the $35 case or microSD card they insisted she purchase with the handset.
Whether the inspiration is financial or in retaliation to a company they see as having too large of market share, there is a palpable push to steer customers away from the iPhone. Even before this bit of news I have advised family and friends to just go to our local Apple store instead of the carrier’s outlet; the customer service is vastly better and the level of support can’t be compared. For those that don’t have the luxury of an Apple store your best bet is to order the device directly from Apple.
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